It’s the mythical Japanese ski world that is just starting to get attention as the number one place you need to experience. It’s called Aizu – and even though the region is located just three hours from Tokyo, it feels like the last frontier, in the best possible way.
Think 22 resorts, ALL the powder and absolutely no crowds. That means no one tracking out all the fresh powder before you can. The snow is so perfect that they refer to it as ‘microfine’, and it’s surrounded by traditional towns full of Samurai culture.
If that all sounds like paradise to you, here’s your guide for hitting up Aizu before everyone else finds out about it.
Yes, we know, irony.
Pack your snorkel
The 22 resorts range in size and vertical, with some having as many as nine ski lifts (Aizu Kogen Takatsue, Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai) and some as few as just one lift. Expect up to about 600m to explore in the bigger resorts, along with some of the best tree runs to be found in Japan.
One lift pass will get you access to all 22 resorts so you can really hone in on your favourite – from family-friendly areas such as the adorably-named Fairy Land Kaneyama, to the more challenging Inawashiro and resorts with terrain parks such as Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai.
Most resorts in the area get around 12 metres of powder each season, but the north-facing resorts such as Nekoma and Minowa can easily get up to 15 metres. It’s not unknown to hear of 60cm falling overnight, ready to be skied by the morning. Paradise.
Get ready to have the place to yourself
Undiscovered. For now. Go before everyone else does and you will literally have powder runs to yourself. Every time. For powder hounds, there are back country tours available, and it’s highly recommended that you opt in for one so that the experts can show you exactly where to go.
Ancient après done right
When it’s time to warm up after a big day on the slopes, you can find all kinds of Japanese favourites around Aizu, including ramen, sashimi, yakitori, tempura and some of the best soba noodles to be found in the country. But should you be craving a more Westernised option, there’s even a diner in Inawashiro Town that offers up 30 different kinds of burgers, along with fish and chips.
For those looking for a decent coffee and pastry, don’t miss Taro Cafe, where they bring patisserie to Japan and serve it all up with a view over Lake Inawashiro.
And when it’s time to drink, well, you’ve come to the right place. The Aizu area is widely known for sake brewing, and you can explore the Eisen Shuzou brewery for sake sampling before pub-crawling your way around the tiny izakayas around town, particularly around Kitakata.
That samurai spirit
Head to Aizu Wakamatsu City, just 40 minutes away from most of the ski resorts, to see the historic city where the Samurai spirit is well and truly alive. The incredible Tsurugajo Castle was a battlefield for Samurais in Japan and one of the last strongholds. You can head into the castle for museum displays about Samurai, along with Rinkaku Teahouse, where feudal lords used to hold tea ceremonies.
Take your time wandering through the traditional craftsman shops, along with nearby sake factories and the beautiful Oyakuen Garden.
Getting there, staying there
Find the area of Aizu inland, in the Tohoku area Fukushima Prefecture, easily accessible via bullet train from Narita Airport, Haneda Airport or Sendai airport; you can also get an Express Bus there.
Once in resort, there are a variety of 3 and 4-star hotels to be found in Aizu, most of which offer up traditional onsens, shuttle buses to nearby resorts, and other activities beyond just skiing and snowboarding – including snowshoeing and snowmobiling. You can also choose between traditional futon beds or Western bedding when booking in.
Our picks include the Active Resorts Urabandai for one of the most beautiful outdoor onsens you’ve ever seen; Hoshino Resorts Bandaisan Onsen Hotel for decor that’s up-to-date and gorgeous; or the kid-friendly Hotel Listel Inawashiro with eight swimming pools (yes, eight) all filled with water from the hot springs.
The big deal
- 5 Nights accommodation in one of 5 hotels – 3-star quality or above
- Daily breakfast
- 6 Day lift pass across 22 different lifts in the Aizu area
And book in for optional extras such as backcountry tours, day tours to local sightseeing spots, a shuttle service from Haneda Airport, taxi transfers and more. Valid 10 December 2019 to 31 March 2020. Additional surcharges for Saturdays and Christmas / New Year holidays.
Find the deal here.